Freaky Dreams: What Do They Mean?
Whether it’s falling off a cliff or public nudity, find out what may be causing those vivid, crazy dreams.
Recurring dreams can continue for days, weeks, months, and even years.
Barrett says the majority of people over a lifetime have recurring dreams. "They are more important, on average, than other dreams. They are probably your unconscious trying to tell you something, a more significant issue."
She says there are two key clusters of recurring dreams. Most of them are nightmares, though some are positive or neutral in nature.
"The single likeliest [dreams] to get locked in are posttraumatic dreams, where you are reliving something that happened while you were awake," she says. Soldiers or victims of violence may experience such recurring dreams. "The details unfold like they do in real life but often go one step further. The thing you are most afraid of in real life presents in the dream."
The other type of recurring dream is one where you haven't experienced the trauma in your waking life. "These dreams include monsters and surreal, impossible settings," she says. "They are much more metaphoric. Sometimes symbolism is obvious, sometimes it's quite a puzzle."
Should we be concerned about recurring themes? Barrett says only if the content is troubling. In the case of disturbing posttraumatic stress dreams, she recommends seeking help from a therapist. "They will diminish over time."
Improving Dream Memory
Some people can remember several dreams a night. Others recall dreams only occasionally or not at all.
"People differ greatly in dream content, both the intensity and recall," says Scammell. Interestingly, according to Barrett, women and younger people report greater dream recall, as do those who sleep for longer periods of time.
Dreams are by their nature, uncontrollable. But there are things you can do to increase your dream retention:
Get enough sleep. Those who sleep for longer periods of time enjoy more REM sleep, resulting in more dreams and possibly greater memory of them.
Employ the power of suggestion. Experts recommend that before you go to sleep, remind yourself that you want to remember your dreams.
Keep a journal. Have a pen and paper or a recorder at your bedside so you can log your dreams when you awaken before hopping out of bed. If not immediately recorded, dreams become elusive and difficult to retrieve.
Get curious. When you first wake up, lie still, stay quiet, and see if you can recall a dream. It may flood over you. Mull it over. Having an open mind, reading about dreams, and discussing them actively with friends and family may encourage future dreaming.
Limit drug and alcohol intake. Sleep and, by extension, dreams are affected by alcohol. And medications, including antidepressants, can induce crazy dreams or even nightmares. Talk to your doctor about the effects of drugs on your dreams.